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Downtown icon rescued by LIFT WC

Group forms to support social, economic prosperty in WC

-Messenger file photo
LIFT WC President Lindsay Henderson takes part in the cleanup during Easter weekend in 2019.

  Editor’s note: This feature first ran in a special publication called Hometown Pride, featuring people and organizations from Fort Dodge and the surrounding area who are working hard for their communities.

WEBSTER CITY — A long-overdue polish began in April on a junk-filled building that is a rough diamond on Webster City’s main street.

The former Elks Club building, 604 Second St., is the first project that Local Initiative for Transformation WC LLC, or LIFT WC, will undertake.

The new nonprofit organization was formed to help grow and support the social and economic prosperity of Webster City, while honoring and preserving the history of the community.

The group also hopes to create educational, recreational, social and cultural opportunities into the future.

Those are some lofty goals, but ones that officials with say are attainable.

LIFT WC’s first such task is to save and renovate the iconic Elks Club.

The idea for LIFT WC started last year when the city of Webster City got involved with the Elks building.

“We had an opportunity to spend Community Development Block Grant funds on the blight of the building by restoring the facade,” Lindsay Henderson, Webster City’s community vitality director, said.

Henderson and Darcy Swon serve on the LIFT board, Henderson as president and Swon as secretary. John Hawkins, Webster City’s mayor, is the vice president; Zach Chizek is treasurer, and Jake Pulis rounds out the five-person board.

Webster City entered into a conditional purchase agreement with the building’s owner, Merlyn Tungesvik, of Webster City, in the summer of 2018.

But the state, with guidance from the federal government, said the city couldn’t take possession at the time; it had to wait until the facade improvements were made.

Still, some of the CDBG requirements advanced. One was an environmental review and the other a historical assessment.

“In the meantime, I was trying to find a solution where the city didn’t have to take up ownership of the building,” Henderson said.

She told the Webster City City Council that, in the best case scenario, a nonprofit group would step forward to take the lead on the full restoration of the building.

“But we knew the facade work would save the building,” she said. “The engineer who inspected it said the work would help eliminate the threat of moisture penetration through the brick and windows. That would give the building a second chance.”

Henderson approached HERO, the organization that took on the successful purchase and renovation of the Webster Theatre. But HERO members weren’t ready to take on another large-scale project.

It was at that point that Henderson and a few others decided to form the nonprofit and begin the work to take ownership of the Elks.

“This building, in our minds, is just the first project,” she said. “The goal is to keep on rolling and doing things to catalyze and improve our downtown, particularly. We thought this was the first catalyst opportunity.”

LIFT made a presentation to the Council in April and the Council voted to donate $40,000 to the nonprofit to kick off the project. That was the original price the city planned to pay for the Elks Club.

Henderson said the group has negotiated a price of $25,000 for the purchase of the building, which would leave some funds available to help with the insurance and other costs, including inevitable landfill fees. Both Henderson and Swon praised Tungesvik for his help and willingness to work with LIFT.

LIFT took possession of the building on Good Friday, April 19.

The group was able to open the building up for tours during Junquefest Memorial Day weekend. They even raised several thousand dollars in donations that weekend.

Memorial Day weekend also marked the first live music event in the historic upstairs ballroom. Several local performers took to the stage with about 50 to 60 people turning out to listen.

Junquefest also served as the official kickoff for the #LIFTtheElks fundraising campaign. Swon said the board is looking to raise $1.1 million to renovate and revitalize the building.

The project plans call for:

• installing a new west entrance with a ramp and exterior elevator for ADA accessibility;

• updating the HVAC system;

• installing new flooring and ceilings where needed;

• sheetrock and insulation;

• rebuilding the rear staircase;

• restoring missing transom windows;

• new bathroom fixtures;

• interior lighting fixtures;

• equipment and furnishings for the ballroom.

“Now we’re not looking to raise all of that from the public. We’re going to be as grant heavy as we can. But we can’t do it all without the charitable donations,” Swon said.

The Community Development Block Grant will help with facade and exterior updates. Those costs are not included in the $1.1 million cost estimate, Henderson said.

Charitable donations to LIFT WC can be made to the Enhance Hamilton County Foundation, 501 Bank St., Webster City. Be sure to put LIFT WC in the memo line of the check. Online donations with a debit or credit card can be made by going to enhancehamiltoncounty.org.

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